China to release five of 10 detained South Africans

Five of the 10 South Africans arrested in the People’s Republic of China are to be released, disaster relief organisation Gift of the Givers (GOTG) said on Wednesday.

“Following an intervention by both the South African and British governments in China yesterday, there has been some movement regarding 11 of the 20 detained individuals,” GOTG founder Imtiaz Sooliman said.

He said representatives of the three governments met in Erdos, Inner Mongolia, for “protracted discussions” and it was decided that no formal charges would be made against the 20 detainees.

“It was agreed that 11 would be ‘released’, meaning that they will be held in detention until flights have been finalised for them out of China,” said Sooliman.

The six British nationals that have been permitted to leave had flights secured on Wednesday and would arrive back in the United Kingdom on Thursday, he added.

“Flights were confirmed for the five South Africans for today also, but the Chinese stalled and said they cannot leave today in spite of their earlier assurances. The five South Africans are now confirmed to fly out tomorrow if the Chinese don’t stall them again, and are expected to land in South Africa on Friday.”

On Tuesday, the department of international relations and cooperation confirmed that a group of South Africans were arrested in the People’s Republic of China. Spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said the South African government was notified on Sunday about the arrest.

“The arrest was confirmed and the embassy is in contact with the Chinese authorities,” Kgwete said at the time.

Kgwete’s comment followed the release of a statement by the religiously-inspired GOTG on Tuesday saying that 10 South Africans, nine Britons and one Indian had been arrested, ending a tour of ancient China.

On Wednesday, Sooliman said they still had a problem getting five South Africans, three Britons and one Indian national released. He said the nine had not been formally charged.

“The family of the South African group are considering appointing a Chinese human rights lawyer to represent the family but to defend what, as no charges have been put to them. Information received from China this morning is very disconcerting as we were told that many of the top human rights lawyers have been arrested by the Chinese government,” said Sooliman.

“No charges have been put to the group but the Chinese have been very vague, saying that someone in the group has some links to a suspected terror group and that someone has some links to a banned group and that the real reason for the incarceration is that someone was watching propaganda videos in the hotel.”

Sooliman said GOTG had received information that the Chinese government said criminal charges would be laid against the group. This could not be confirmed immediately.

GOTG called on Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was in China on an official state visit, to intervene.

Sooliman said it was “inconceivable” that the Chinese government was hosting the South African government and simultaneously incarcerating 10 citizens “without charge”.

“The Chinese must be told in no uncertain terms to provide the evidence and proof if the South Africans have terror links, charge them and take them to trial. Alternatively, they must release them immediately and unconditionally,” he said.

“The conditions in the detention centre, apparently, are not good. Family members are extremely worried and want finality on the issue.”

But on Wednesday, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed that Ramaphosa would use his official visit to secure the release of South Africans still detained.

Ramaphosa arrived in Beijing on Monday. 

Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed the statement by GOTG that five of the 10 South Africans initially detained were awaiting a flight back to Pretoria.

The South Africans are part of a tour group detained by the Chinese authorities, reportedly on suspicion of association with a terror group or banned organisation. – ANA

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